Skull base tumors grow at the bottom of the skull where critical nerves and blood vessels run to and from the brain. The skull base is divided into three regions - the anterior cranial fossa, the middle cranial fossa and the posterior cranial fossa - and each region is responsible for different functions. Skull base tumors are categorized based on the region in which they develop, and symptoms will vary depending on the location of the tumors.
Skull base tumors in the anterior cranial fossa
This area of the skull base contains the olfactory grooves, nasal cavities and eye sockets. Typical symptoms of tumors in this area include blurry vision, headaches, sinus congestion and facial pain and pressure. The most common types of anterior skull base tumors include:
- Meningiomas. These tumors grow in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges).
- Paranasal sinus cancer. These tumors develop in the nerves, bones and membranes of the sinuses.
Skull base tumors in the middle cranial fossa
The middle cranial fossa houses the pituitary gland—which is responsible for hormone production—as well as the temporal lobes of the brain, which are involved with auditory processes. This area also forms the outer walls of the eye sockets, which is why vision changes can be a symptom of a tumor in the middle cranial fossa. Changes in endocrine function are also a telling sign. The most common types of skull base tumors that develop in this region are:
- Craniopharyngiomas. These benign brain tumors are usually found near the pituitary gland and can take the form of a solid tumor or a cyst.
- Pituitary tumors. While most pituitary tumors are benign, they can cause the pituitary gland to secrete too many or too few hormones, which can lead to health issues.
- Rathke’s cleft cysts. These benign cysts are fluid-filled sacs that grow between the two lobes of the pituitary gland. This condition is rarely diagnosed since it produces few to no symptoms.
Skull base tumors in the posterior cranial fossa
The posterior cranial fossa contains the cerebellum, which is responsible for motor movements. It also houses the brain stem, a critical part of the central nervous system that controls heart rate, breathing, swallowing and consciousness. Symptoms of skull base tumors of this area include neck pain, hearing loss, difficulty swallowing, difficulty speaking, dizziness and tinnitus. The most common types of tumors that develop in the posterior cranial fossa include:
- Acoustic neuromas (vestibular schwannomas). These benign tumors can affect hearing and balance and are often discovered during a hearing exam.
- Chordomas. Skull base chordomas are malignant tumors that may grow slowly and metastasize (spread) throughout the body.
- Chondrosarcomas. These relatively rare bone tumors mainly affect adults between ages 20 and 75.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to treating skull base tumors
The Neuro-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center takes a comprehensive, individualized approach to diagnosing and treating skull base tumors. We offer a full spectrum of standard and novel therapies in one, convenient location, as well as supportive care services to help our patients through every step of their cancer treatment. Each patient’s case is carefully reviewed and expertly coordinated by many different specialists, including neurosurgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Michael Vogelbaum, Program Leader, Department of Neuro-Oncology.